Former THE PRACTICE star Camryn Manheim has secretly been battling rheumatoid arthritis after discovering she could no longer teach sign language.

The 44-year-old actress loves showing children how to use their hands to communicate, but found lessons increasingly difficult last year (04) when she developed stiffness in her fingers.

She spent months trying to cure her problem before realising her pain was due to arthritis. She has since sought expert treatment and now has injections twice a week to ease the pain.

Manheim admits the problem reached its zenith while she was shooting TV mini-series ELVIS - a course of steroids gave her temporary relief but the stiffness returned together with swelling when she stopped taking them.

She tells America's People magazine, "When he told me it was rheumatoid arthritis I said, 'That's the craziest thing I've ever heard. I'm too young.' I learned I was mistaken.

"Now, twice a week, I give myself a shot of a drug that reduces inflammation. I think it took about three weeks for me to notice a difference. And then I would say after about the second month I wanted to marry my doctor."